Nancy Whiskey: Detroit
2644 Harrison St at Spruce St, Corktown, Detroit MI
By Erin Hildebrandt, Guest Writer
The Place: A classic Irish dive bar that survived Prohibition in Corktown, Detroit.
The Time: Saturday March 16th, 6:30pm. AKA: The weekend of St. Patrick’s Day. Rehearsal for a play I’m doing in Ferndale concludes and I am searching for a traditional Irish pub to celebrate my heritage and congratulate myself for having fully memorized my lines. I narrow my search to Corktown as it’s known for being a historical Irish neighborhood. The Google machine leads me to a bar claiming itself to be “Detroit’s oldest party” - Nancy Whiskey. I’m IN.
The Vibe: I repeat - it’s 6:30pm the night before St. Patrick’s Day. I brace myself even before getting off I-75 South, certain that I will not find a seat inside due to the chaotic bar scene I envision. (When I think of a bar in Corktown, I picture one of the many hot spots on Michigan Avenue.) I am extremely grateful for GPS, as I circle the block twice not noticing this cute, unassuming bar with a gorgeous brick exterior, set right in the middle of an otherwise residential street. Parking is easily found. Success! Upon entering the bar, I take in the sea of light up necklaces, shamrock leis, and kelly green tutus that stumble before me. Although my fellow patrons are three sheets to the wind, I feel a wave of relief knowing that it’s not nearly as overwhelming as I mentally prepped for. I spot an open seat at the bar and, after convincing myself that it’s not a mirage, I claim it! My heart soars! There’s a smattering of tables and chairs as well as a built in bench alongside the wall near the entrance. The crown molding is decorated with fleur-de-lis, which feels homey and gives this dive character. It’s encouraging to see that so much of the original building is still intact after the fire in 2009. Vertical Horizon is playing at a moderate volume, and I begin to privately reminisce about the late 90s/early 00s. Just as I picture Joseph Gordon Levitt’s adorable puppy dog eyes circa 10 Things I Hate About You, the bartender abruptly switches the music to top 40 and Demi Lovato blares through the speaker. Though a bit disappointing, I find this amusing. Despite the music choice, the age of the clientele ranges from freshly turned 21 to senior citizens. A good sign to me, I like bars that appeal to people from all walks of life.
The Bartender: Three bartenders who are clearly the “A-Team” for this establishment. Two women and one man, all in their 30s, and they’ve seen it all. They are busy but still plenty attentive; courteous, but not overly kind which I respect as it’s one of their busiest days of the year. All three exude confidence and are completely unfazed by the madness around them. Major kudos to this team!
The Drank: Tullamore Dew on the rocks ($7) served in a plastic cup, as the wasted fraternity bros from Royal Oak arriving on a party bus certainly cannot be trusted with glass on this holiday.
Was I Hit On?: Yes. Directly to my left, there is a group of six people, even gender split, 30s-40s, maybe older. Halfway through enjoying my Tullydew, one of the men (who looks worse for the wear) approaches me. Having no regard for my personal space, this hot mess leans in and sloppily states “You are so beautiful.” To which I respond “Thanks, I know.” He retorts with “That’s cocky!” “No, I’m confident,” I correct. “Are you even straight?” he asks incredulously. I then build up an invisible wall with my arm and state “Personal space is important, I’m married and you need to step back.” Worse for the Wear sulks away. Not ten minutes later, he returns. He pitifully attempts to have the last word and heal his bruised ego with “You know I wasn’t hitting on you, right? Because if I was, trust me, you would know.” I cackle in disbelief. His wingman buddy comes up and tries to smooth things over, but the real heroine is my new friend Karen, one of the more mature women from their group. After watching all of this unfold, she decides to give Worse For The Wear some feedback. She begins with, “You are just too thirsty. Is that what they call it?” (I confirm “thirsty” is indeed the proper term.) “You need to listen to this young woman, she told you that you were too close.” Karen turns her attention to me and explains that this guy is the “salt of the earth,” and if she was twenty years younger, she would absolutely date him. She seems quite sincere about her affection for him but in an effort to reel her in from fantasyland, I change the subject to how awesome the bar is. I also learn that Karen is now retired and living in Milwaukee, but used to live in Detroit. We bond over how she and I both lived in the same neighborhood near Wayne State University and become fast friends.
Should You Drink Here Alone?: Yes, but perhaps avoid St. Patrick’s Day weekend. Unless Karen from Milwaukee is there, without her drunken idiot friends.
Erin Hildebrandt is a Michigan native, a newlywed, and recently relocated to the Metro-Detroit area after living in New York for 3.5 years. She is an actor and her next show coming up in March is “The House” at The Ringwald Theatre in Ferndale. www.erinhildebrandt.com